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Through the looking glass: Last week a paralyzed man in Australia became the first to send a tweet just by thinking it, using a brain-computer interface (BCI). Human trials of the interface have been underway in Australia since last year, and the FDA cleared it for US trials this past summer.
New York brain-computer interface company Synchron announced on December 23 that 62-year-old Philip O’Keefe, who suffers from amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (ALS), published a tweet using its flagship stentrode device (below). O’Keefe sent it using the account of Synchron CEO Thomas Oxley.
hello, world! Short tweet. Monumental progress.— Thomas Oxley (@tomoxl) December 23, 2021
The BCI is an 8mm device inserted into the brain through the jugular vein allowing users wireless brain-computer connectivity to digital devices without open-brain surgery. O’Keefe received the implant in April 2020 after ALS left him paralyzed. One other patient could also control a computer just by thinking.
Funded by the University of Melbourne, DARPA, the DoD, and Khosla Ventures, the FDA granted the company approval for human clinical trials in the US in July. The regulatory green light puts Synchron ahead of Elon Musk’s Neuralink BCI, which recently enabled a monkey to play Pong with its mind, but lacks FDA approval in humans. Neuralink hopes to start human testing in 2022.
Amyotrophic lateral sclerosis is a disease that kills neurons in the brain and spinal cord, paralyzing the victim. Its exact cause is unknown and currently has no cure.